Forage and Feast June

This June Dave has three more plants for you to look out for including his favorite-ever forage!

By the time you read this I shall be on my botanical pilgrimage to the south coast, the very south coast actually, the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, the most southerly tip of mainland UK. It is a special place for botanists, the unusual serpentine rock that the peninsula sits on means you get an array of plants there not found in many other parts of the UK. So a walk along the coast, rare plants and a pasty in hand, this is what foraging and botany can lead too, bliss.

OK, so it's not meant to be a ‘working botanical holiday’ and is meant to be our ‘one year wedding anniversary’, but this is the life of a plant lover, wherever you go there are plants to see and flowers to get excited about, whether that’s down in Cornwall or even closer to home.

This month I want you to get excited about finding three plants; my all time edible highlight, a poisonous coastal plant and a look-but-dont-touch orchid.

As always enjoy your plants and foraging wherever you get to this month, but only ever pick something YOU know 100% you know what it is.

Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

 

   

The real deal, not like those fake strawberry plants we discussed a few months back, the Barren Strawberry (Potentilla sterilis), which does not produce little delicious strawberries. The Wild Strawberry is truly something to savour and wonder. Such flavour, such joy and such pleasure from eating one small berry, it is one of the foraging highlights of the year for me.

Now is the time to pin down the Wild Strawberry plants in your area as once they start to produce the fruits they can be hard to find, especially when the flowers have dropped their petals and the fruits have not even turned red yet. By at least seeing the white flowers now it can help you remember to check for the delightful berries towards the end of June.

In flower, Wild Strawberry has five white petals that are not very spaced out (compared to the Barren Strawberry which has wide spaces between them), the leaves are glossy and smooth and of course the clinch for identification, they will be producing small strawberries.

The strawberries are at their best from mid June to early July depending on where you are, most near me at the start of June were in flower still, but one or two were producing fruit, but not yet ripe - see pic). Found in woodland and hedgerows on light soils they are relatively common across the UK.

How should you use the fruit? Well they are too small and I think it would be too time consuming to gather enough to make anything like jam in my opinion, instead this is a fruit that should be enjoyed whilst on your walk, the exquisite flavour to be savoured and just take a moment to stop and enjoy one of the best forage treats in our land.

Yellow-horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum)

It is getting that time of year where we all like a day beside the sea on a nice warm day. Well if you insist on going then why not look (but definitely do not eat) for the Yellow-horned Poppy.

As always with foraging we need to know what to pick and what to avoid and this is one of them. The Yellow-horned Poppy is a beautiful plant with yellow rather than red flowers of the more familiar poppy. It is found on shingle beaches around the UK and grow quite large, to around 90cm and over 1m wide in some cases.

The flowers are yellow and when they go to seed the seed pods are long, to around 15-20cm which is quite spectacular. The foliage is rather beautiful too, a glaucous colour and a little furry that is set off by those bright yellow flowers.

It is a poisonous plant so it is most certainly one to avoid, but there are lots of edible plants to forage around our coasts and before we discuss some in the coming months then it is best to learn one not to pick.

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

There is one orchid that really gets me excited to find, the Bee Orchid. There is something about it, its beauty, the fact you generally just stumble upon them, and they are the right amount rarity, not too common, but not really rare either, something when in the right habitat you know you should look for.

For the forager all orchids are off limits in the UK, they are protected by law and you can not pick any part of them - not that a forager would, there is no need. The law is to protect them from thieves who want some of the rare orchids for themselves and dig wild ones up. This of course makes them rarer, which then make them more desirable to thieves and the vicious circle continues.

This year in the south of England a number of rare orchids have been dug up, nothing left but holes in the ground, it is hard to believe and sad that this still goes on in this day and age but here we are.

So I have included the humble Bee Orchid this month to bring awareness to the problems some members of our plant world are facing, and to encourage you to look for and be in awe at these pretty little plants.

Bee Orchids are generally in grassland that is quite bare and not too dense and they do favour lime soils, but in urban areas you would be surprised at where they turn up. Motorway junction roundabouts, the central reservations of main roads, railway embankments, canal towpaths and even just in urban parks are all places I have seen them close to Manchester city centre.

They are small, you could easily walk past them, standing to around 40cm in height and the only colour (other than green) on the plant is from the small flowers which resemble a bee pollinating the flower (hence the name). From June to July is the best time to search for these weird little flowers.

What I want people to do though is if you find some Bee Orchids then you can inform your local council to let them not to mow that area whilst they are flowering, or to report them to your local record centre. Each county has a local record centre, they hold data on the ecology of an area and this help assess planning applications in areas, so for instance if you do find a Bee Orchid in Greater Manchester you can report it via the Greater Manchester Local Record Centre website. That way your finds become apart of conservation to help protect these species, it is not just Bee Orchids you can report but any wildlife. This is where as foragers, botanists or just general nature lovers we can do our bit to help protect these wonderful species.

Next month I shall have more species for you to look for but in the meantime enjoy your foraging and plant spotting wherever you go.